Over the past couple of weeks I've had things to do in downtown Boston and the Financial District, so I have been going there more than usual. As I cycle through this dense urban area, my company includes mainly bumper-to-bumper car traffic and bike messengers weaving through it. It was a hot afternoon and I was waiting in the left lane at a red light - a black SUV behind me and a gray pick-up truck on my right - when it suddenly occurred to me: I was quite comfortable. Any moment now, the light would turn green and I would make a left turn in a way that would not conflict with oncoming vehicles. The awareness of this was not one of nervous anticipation, but one of calm preparedness. Perhaps I am no longer quite the "beginner" I still tend to think of myself as being.
I say all of this not to brag (and I am sure many would mock the idea of cycling in downtown Boston as any sort of accomplishment), but to point out that the "baby steps" principle really does work if you are patient and allow yourself to expand your comfort zone at your own pace. Last summer, I wrote this post about overcoming my anxieties and cycling outside my immediate neighborhood. Now those anxieties seem in the distant past, as I cycle all over greater Boston and beyond.
Of course the city's ever-expanding bicycle infrastructure helps as well. Not so much because the bike lanes are spectacular (note the amount of debris on the left and how close the car gets on the right), but because the sheer act of painting all sorts of bicycle signifiers seems to make drivers more aware of cyclists' existence in general. Overall, conditions for cyclists are improving here.
If I wanted to cross the river to Boston last year, I would cycle along the Charles River Trail at a snail's pace. Now I just go right on the roads and cross the main city bridges. It takes 15-20 minutes to get where I need to be, and I no longer feel anxious to cycle in this manner. I make no secret of the fact that I am a neurotic wimp with a poor sense of balance. So, at the risk of perpetuating a cliché: "If I can do it, anybody can." Choose a bicycle you love, take it one neighborhood at a time, and expand your comfort zone.
Just be sure to make way for ducklings...
And don't tease the swans!